Living Amid A Global Pandemic, Part 1

By all accounts, we are living through a once-a-century global viral pandemic. The last time anything like this happened was the Spanish Flu of 1918, which happened 102 years ago. I'm not a history buff, but I've also never read any firsthand accounts of what it was like to live through that pandemic. At best, I've read a couple of articles, and perhaps I've seen a few video shorts about the 1918 flu pandemic within the context of documentary films about the time period.

Much of what we know about the turn of the century is from firsthand accounts: letters written to relatives and lovers, newspaper clippings, and journal entries. I'm not vain enough to believe that anything about my blog will survive the next hundred years, much less that anyone will care about my experience. But, what if?

In that spirit, I thought I'd try to document some of my thoughts and experiences from the pandemic virus that, at the present writing, is called "SARS-CoV2."

First of all, let's talk about the name. A few years back, there was another scary virus called "SARS." I don't remember what SARS stands for, but the RS at the end means "respiratory syndrome." (Possibly "Sudden Acquired Respiratory Syndrome?" Check Wikipedia.) Actually, SARS is the disease caused by a virus that was called "SARS-CoV." So, this virus is like the revenge of SARS: It's also a coronavirus that causes pneumonia, but this is the second one they've found, hence "SARS-CoV2." This virus causes a condition called COVID-19, which again is an acronym for something like "coronavirus immune disease, from the year 2019."

I'm obviously not an expert in viruses, but as a layman, it seems really dumb to me that we're calling this virus and its disease by separate names, and that both of those names are acronyms, rather than "the Wuhan flu" or something. (Yes, I know it's not a flu.) Every other major disease has a name, not a code. Call me crazy, but I think people would have a better time dealing with the realities of this disease psychologically if they could give it a name rather than an acronym. But that's just my opinion.

Now let me say a few words about what it was like when this virus started. News of the virus started making major headlines I'd say in January 2020. At first, it was yet another strange illness to come out of Asia. We've experienced those before: swine flu, H1N1, SARS, and so on. I even remember when I was a young boy, there was something called "the Taiwanese flu" that made headlines. So Asian flus are not an unusual thing to read about in the headlines.

It only became unusual when the Chinese government locked down the whole of Wuhan and stories started coming out about how quickly and viciously this virus spread. Within a couple of weeks, it had spread to Japan, South Korea, and to a now-infamous cruise ship. At that point, I became aware of an online map of the spread provided by Johns Hopkins University. I started tracking the cases in real-time via that website. For some days, tracking the virus was quite a scary thing to do. I'd watch the red dots pop up on the map like pox. Eventually, I had to remind myself that every infectious virus spreads like this; this was just the first one I'd seen a map of. That thought helped me calm down a bit.

By March, the virus had reached Texas. At first, everyone was telling jokes about it, but over time the jokes became more sardonic, and eventually people just stopped joking. Schools and offices announced their temporary closures. I myself am currently working from home now, in fact. When these closures happened, that's when people in general started panicking a bit. There was a big, 2-or-3-day run on groceries. People bought up all the hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Eventually, they also bought up all the eggs, milk, frozen vegetables, canned goods, and so on. My current belief is that this panic was irrational. There was no good reason to empty the grocery store shelves. I guess people can't help themselves. I ordered groceries online, and I'll pick them up later today. I don't expect food shortages to be the persistent norm. I have no fear of that. In a few days, I expect grocery shopping to normalize again.

Now word is coming in of the US government's forced closure of bars and restaurants. This is new territory for a country that prides itself on its libertarian values. There is a little bit of debate out there about whether these forced closures are the right thing to do, but most people agree that they are. I, personally, feel otherwise. I think we should voluntarily minimize contact with other people, of course, but I do not think the government should forcibly close our businesses and our social institutions. That's a debate to be had for the future world's historians, I suppose.

For the next couple of weeks, at the least, we'll all be stuck at home, telecommuting to work, looking after our children, and trying to keep busy with things other than nights out and alcohol. Having recently reduced my consumption of both restaurant food and alcohol, I expect I'll have an easier time than most. I also like to exercise at home and go running in my neighborhood, and play music, so once again my introverted and somewhat boring nature has proven to be a major advantage for me in extenuating circumstances.

Young, single people are probably in the worst position right now. Without social interaction, their lives are bound to get lonely. For my part, I have my daughter and my wife to keep me happy. It's a great time to be in a committed, monogamous marriage, isn't it? And indeed, some of my friends have already wondered aloud if there will be an increase in pregnancies in the coming months.

Most of what we Americans know about live among SARS-CoV2 comes from the accounts of people who have already gone through the first wave of the disease, people in China, Italy, and South Korea. So I am waiting for my life to resemble theirs circa-10 days ago. We shall see.

I'll continue to write more about this on my blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment